Many of us gravitate towards objects that are bright and sparkly. Creating this magic in one handbag is what Judith Leiber, née Peto, accomplished.
Judith Peto was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1921. Her mother, Helene, from Vienna, was a homemaker and her father, Emil, from Hungary, was a commodities broker. Together with her sister, Eva, the family had a bourgeois lifestyle.
Discovering that their teenaged daughter had a good head for numbers and academics, they sent Judith to London to study chemistry, with the hope that she would acquire a university degree and work in the cosmetics industry. Part of the reason they sent her away to school was a concern about her safety in case of a war. However, the distance from her family proved too difficult for Judith and she soon returned home.
She landed a job at a handbag company and, over the years, her father would bring her an assortment of unique handbags from his many travels around the world, thereby initiating Judith’s collection.
Learning the art of handbag-making from start to finish allowed Judith to become the first woman to join the Hungarian handbag guild; she gained the title of a true craftsman.
Judith and her family escaped and survived the Holocaust due to her father’s large circle of connections. He was fortunate to obtain a Schutzpass, a document that secured the bearer safe passage, giving the family, together with 26 others, access to a house set aside for Swiss citizens, where they could live. They ate what they could, slept on the floor and never left the security of the house.
“People in Budapest and my parents, especially my father, did one thing and then another to keep us safe, or as safe as we could be when everyone wanted to kill us,” Judith told the Jewish Exponent in a 2013 interview.
When Hungary was liberated, the family moved into a basement that was home to 60 survivors. Rebuilding the life they once knew was their goal. During this time, Judith met and fell in love with an American soldier, Gerson Leiber. Against her parents’ wishes, she married him in 1946 and the couple moved to the United States.
The young new immigrant had no intention of staying home and becoming a traditional housewife. With her knowledge and skill in making handbags, she got her first job at Nettie Rosenstein, a fashion designer. Working her way up in the company, she was commissioned to make a handbag to match the inauguration dress of the first lady, Mamie Eisenhower. The bag received high regard and this milestone, after 12 years of hard work, gave her the impetus to start her own brand.
In 1963, she launched her company with her husband and partner by her side, overseeing the business and operational duties. An avid artist himself, a painter, they were an unstoppable duo. In the 7,000-square-foot loft that became their studio, countless creations were brought to life, handbags that epitomized glamour, every piece an original, made with crystals and beads in shapes of animals, fruit and other objects.
A Judith Leiber handbag became a first lady tradition for the inauguration ball. Some A-list Hollywood stars put more thought into their Leiber handbag than their dresses, knowing it would be the focal point of any attire. One handbag could cost anywhere from $3,000 US to $20,000 US.
“That is what people pay for – quality,” Judith told the Exponent.
And quality was what she prided herself on, each bag being made by specialist craftsmen under Judith’s watchful eye in New York.
Her label brought in millions of dollars in sales each year and there was a waiting list for her creations, with women around the world wanting a timeless bag to wear and/or display as part of their home décor.
The company was sold in 1993, with Judith staying on as the head creator. She enjoyed her new life, moving out of New York and settling in East Hampton, N.Y., with her husband, “Gus.”
Over her career, Judith received numerous design awards and had her work exhibited in some of the world’s most renowned museums, including the Smithsonian, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum, to name only a few.
In addition to being displayed elsewhere, there is the Leiber Collection museum in East Hampton, a project set in motion by Gus.
The Leibers were married for more than 70 years. Their earthly love story endured until 2018, when they died within hours of each other, both of heart attacks.
Ariella Steinis a mother, wife and fashion maven. A Vancouverite, she has lived in both Turkey and Israel for the past 25 years.
One of the family cards, produced 100 years ago, that is currently on long-term loan in the folklore department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, on Mt. Scopus. It is from the Chaya and Chana Gitelman Collection.
Not too long ago, I was flipping through a collection of old family cards, all of which were produced 100 years ago in Eastern Europe. On the cover of one card, a young girl sits at a table writing in a notebook. Her mother stands over her, looking on. From a modern perspective, there is nothing unusual about a woman knowing how to read and write. But less than 200 years ago, this would have been considered somewhat revolutionary.
Just how revolutionary? In the article, “The History of Jewish Women in Early Modern Poland: An Assessment,” Prof. Moshe Rosman reported that, at the end of the 19th century, more than half of all Jewish girls could not read, not even in Yiddish. Rosman noted that not only was limited attention given to educating Jewish women, but that those who first wrote the history of this period, deemed it hardly worth dealing with the subject.
In early modern Poland, education for Jewish girls and women was largely designed to make them into faithful Jews who would keep female rituals. For the most part, their education was informal and conducted in Yiddish. Brenda Socachevsky Bacon states that a learned woman was an aberration and considered outside the norm. In analyzing Shmuel Yosef Agnon’s story “Hakhmot Nashim” (“The Wisdom of Women”), which was published in 1943, Socachevsky Bacon says a woman’s very presence in the beit midrash causes the men to be uncomfortable. “They view the realm of Torah study as their own, even as their own hypocritical behaviour belies their dedication to it,” she writes. “The men will not allow this discomfort to continue, even if it involves transgressing the Torah’s commandment not to embarrass another person publicly.”
Fortunately, this was not the whole story of this period. Rosman explains there were secularized school settings in which Jewish girls learned both Yiddish and European languages. The objective of these schools was modernization and general knowledge. Girls read classic European literature. In this instance, the scorn was sometimes transferred, with traditional Jewish literature viewed contemptuously.
According to Prof. Eliyana Adler (“Rediscovering Schools for Jewish Girls in Tsarist Russia”), private schools for Jewish girls were a crucial ingredient in transitioning Russian Jewry into modernity. She reports that, from 1844 to the early 1880s, well over 100 private schools for Jewish girls opened in cities, towns and shtetlach throughout the Pale of Jewish Settlement.
The educators who opened and ran private schools for Jewish girls pragmatically balanced their ideological motivations with very real concerns about funding and retaining communal goodwill. Thus, those who ran private schools offered a variety of student tracks. Rich Jews (like their wealthy Christian neighbours did elsewhere) could pay to board their children. Many schools offered weekly instruction in both music and French as paid electives.
Adler goes on to say, “at the same time, families of modest means were offered tuition payments on a sliding scale. Noteworthy, poor students were actively recruited for scholarship positions. Other schools offered less sophisticated fee scales, but clearly worked within the same framework. The rewards for having a robust student body became clear as both the government and certain private and communal bodies began to award subsidies to successful private schools.”
These private schools for Jewish girls designed Jewish studies curricula to meet the expectations of the Russian Jewish communities from which they drew their students. The curricula had to be modern and useful without being radical. Thus, efforts were made to introduce training in practical crafts; that is, crafts that could be put to use in the marketplace. In 1881, the first trade school for poor Jewish girls opened in Odessa. Thereafter, both trade schools and sections within other schools that offered more in-depth training in such skills as sewing opened with increasing frequency.
By the end of the 1890s, in Odessa alone, more than 500 girls studied in four communally funded vocational schools for Jewish girls. Jewish educators responded to the growing interest in interaction with the surrounding society by opening their private girls schools to Christian girls and by offering to teach courses in the Jewish religion in Russian schools. Prayer served as the common denominator of religious courses – the major focus of religious education was on prayer.
The teaching of Jewish history rather than simply the Torah allowed for an unprecedented degree of interpretation and even mild biblical criticism. Hebrew reading was also offered in many of the schools. Almost all Jewish girls schools offered penmanship and arithmetic.
Every private school for Jewish girls in the Russian Empire required extensive instruction in the Russian language. It was not uncommon for all general studies subjects to be taught in Russian.
Examples of the above educational transformation may be found in the bigger cities of Eastern Europe. In Plonsk (located some 60 kilometres from Warsaw), for example, toward the end of the 19th century, organizations such as Kahal Katan (literally, Small Community), educated the poorer strata of society. Also during this period, the city (which had a Jewish majority) opened a primary school for Jewish children, where some 80 pupils, mostly girls, studied in Russian. (See yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/communities/plonsk/jewish_education.asp.)
Vilna is another example. In 1915, the Association to Disseminate Education established three schools – one for boys, one for girls and one mixed – whose language of instruction was Yiddish. Also in 1915, Dr. Yosef Epstein established the Vilna Hebrew Gymnasium (high school), which was later renamed after him. The informal educational system included literature, drama, music, industrial arts and other courses. (See yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/vilna/background/20century.asp.)
According to Dr. Ruth Dudgeon (“The Forgotten Minority: Women Students in Imperial Russia, 1872-1917”), Russian women, aided by sympathetic professors, created educational institutions that evolved into universities and medical, pedagogical, agricultural and polytechnical institutes for women. Moreover, in 1916, the Ministry of Education overcame its bias against preparing women for public activity, rather than the home, and mandated the equalization of the curricula in the boys’ and girls’ gymnasia.
In the 1870s and 1880s, Jewish-Russian enrolment in the courses for women was between 16% and 21%. The imposition of quotas in the 1880s, however, reduced the number of Jewish students. But, in places where the quota was lifted, the number of Jewish women in the courses soared.
In the restricted Pale of Settlement, young Jewish women wanting to study did everything to establish residency elsewhere. The “everything” included registering as a prostitute. According to Dudgeon, one brother found out about his sister’s actions and then drowned himself in the Neva; the grieving sister, in turn, ended her life by taking poison.
As circumstances for Jews in the Russian Empire deteriorated in the 1880s, those Jews who stayed in that part of the world came to embrace new ideological solutions to the situation. In an atmosphere of violence, deprivation and brutally strict quotas in education and professions, Russian-Jewish parents wanted their children enrolled in schools where the course of study offered some hope for the future.
By the turn-of-the-century period, educators were no longer opening private schools for Jewish girls based on the old model. The schools they opened – whether they were trade schools where Zionism was taught, religiously mixed schools devoted to full acculturation, or Yiddishist schools committed to inculcating socialism – promised more than basic literacy.
In Poland, Gershon Bacon writes, “the education of Polish Jews in the interwar period was characterized … [as] the ‘victory of schooling.’ The compulsory education law of the reborn Polish republic had brought about in one generation what had eluded generations of prodding by tsarist officialdom and preaching by Jewish maskilim (people versed in Hebrew or Yiddish literature). Whether in the public schools or in the various Jewish school networks, Jewish children in Poland were educated according to curricula that deviated in almost every respect from that of traditional Jewish education. [Notably,] religious families had no objections to sending daughters to secondary schools, even though they objected to exposing sons to secular education.
“What is most striking,” continues Bacon, “are the differences in enrolment figures in institutions of higher learning. There was a much larger proportion of Jewish women students among female students as a whole (36% in 1923/1924), as distinct from the percentage of Jewish men among male students (22% in 1923/1924). It would seem that we have here but another example of a phenomenon observed in other countries, where Jewish women entered institutions of higher learning earlier and in greater proportion than their non-Jewish counterparts.” (See jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/ poland-interwar.)
So many factors about these educational statistics still need to be explored. Nevertheless, one can observe that an outcome seems to have been the creation of a modern Jewish Eastern European woman who “opened her mouth with wisdom.” (Proverbs 31:26)
Deborah Rubin Fieldsis an Israel-based features writer. She is also the author of Take a Peek Inside: A Child’s Guide to Radiology Exams, published in English, Hebrew and Arabic.
Izzy Einstein and Moe Smith sharing a toast in a New York bar, 1935. (photo from Library of Congress; New York World-Telegram and Sun Collection)
Wine is a large part of Jewish ritual and tradition. And a glass or two of schnapps is not uncommon. Adults often drink something alcoholic on a holiday or happy occasion. So what did people do when there was Prohibition?
In Canada, national Prohibition was from 1918 to 1920 and, in the United States, Prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933. How did Jews get wine for Shabbat and holidays during these periods? And who clamped down on those who were disobeying the law?
In both the United States and in Canada, Prohibition laws allowed for wine to be sold for religious sacraments. This meant that rabbis and priests could lawfully possess wine. In the United States, both Jews and non-Jews were known to use this special legal passage as a ruse. It led to bootleg priests and rabbis and to the hoarding of wine for bogus religious reasons.
Although Canadian provinces had various earlier restrictions on liquor sale and consumption, the national Canadian Prohibition continued for only a short period of time. And, importantly, it remained legal to manufacture liquor in Canada. Even more significant, Canadian distilleries could likewise legally sell it to the dry United States, where the manufacture, importation, sale and transport of alcohol was then illegal. Thus, Canadians brought alcohol to the United States via Windsor, Ont., where it usually went on to Detroit, Mich. At the time, Samuel Bronfman was the Canadian Jewish owner of Seagram’s. He had Jewish bootleggers floating so much illegal booze into the United States over Lake Erie that this body of water became known as the “Jewish Lake.”
Remarkably, the two most successful U.S. Prohibition agents were Jewish. Izzy Einstein and Moe Smith were two “regular”-looking guys who had absolutely no resemblance to flashy Prohibition agent Elliot Ness, who has been characterized in television series and in movies. Their ability to fool violators with either their ordinary appearance or with their numerous disguises allowed them to make an outstanding number of arrests. In all, they made 4,932 arrests of bartenders, bootleggers and speakeasy owners. They had a 95% conviction rate. They confiscated an estimated five million bottles of alcohol. At the time, this catch was worth about $15 million US.
Neither man had any law enforcement training. Einstein had been a pedlar and a postal worker. Smith had sold cigars. They were not even strongly for temperance, but they were for upholding the law. Initially, Einstein’s job interviewer didn’t want to hire him as an agent because of his lack of training, but Einstein managed to convince the man that he was right for the job because he looked so unremarkable and because he had a “feel” for people.
Having been born in Austria, Einstein spoke a number of languages. He put his language skills to use when the pair disguised themselves. They were known to have used a huge variety of get-ups, including as German pickle packers, Polish counts, Hungarian violinists, Jewish gravediggers, French maitre d’s, Italian fruit vendors, Russian fishermen, Chinese launderers, streetcar conductors, ice deliverers, opera singers, judges, traveling cigar salesmen, Texas cattlemen, movie extras, football players, beauty contest judges, grocers, lawyers, rabbis, college students, plumbers and delegates to the Democratic National Convention. In my estimation, however, the funniest costumes were those of them dressed as a man and woman. One of them sported a thick beard and mustache and a bowler hat, while the other dressed in a heavy fur coat, scarf and jaunty cloche hat.
Einstein claimed that it was key to come into a speakeasy carrying some kind of tool of the trade, so he often carried a string of fish, a pitcher of milk, trombones, a fishing rod or a big pail of pickles. He did not carry a gun, however, and Smith carried one only occasionally.
The greater their chutzpah, the greater the risk to their personal safety. At one Bowery saloon, for instance, Einstein even produced his actual agent’s badge and asked for a pint of whiskey. The bartender thought it was a gag and served him.
So that he had enough evidence to bring charges against the offenders, Einstein devised a special hidden liquor collection system. There were three parts to this system: a rubber bag hidden below his shirt, a rubber tube that was connected to the bag, and a glass funnel sewn into his vest pocket. He sipped the liquor and, without anyone noticing, poured the rest of the drink down the funnel, which then led to the rubber tube.
The pair’s success on the job became a matter of public record. New York newspapers frequently covered their escapades. They became so well known that Einstein’s face was even hung in certain speakeasies. But even that did not tip off drinking customers, as Einstein reportedly once stood below his photo without anyone catching on.
Einstein and Smith had worked as federal Prohibition agents for about six years when they were laid off, perhaps because they inadvertently made other agents “shine” less than they did. They both went on to be a different kind of agent, successfully selling insurance. Some of their clients, it is said, were people they had busted.
Deborah Rubin Fields is an Israel-based features writer. She is also the author of Take a Peek Inside: A Child’s Guide to Radiology Exams, published in English, Hebrew and Arabic.
From kimchi to cast iron, more than 300 new products were on display at this year’s Kosher Fest. (photo by Dave Gordon)
At Kosherfest this year, there were such traditional Jewish staples as gefilte fish, matzot, bagels and cured meats. But cauliflower pizza crusts, organic tequila, vegan cheeses, kimchi and date-seed coffee were among 300 new products on display.
The two-day event in New Jersey was the 31st annual convention. It showed that kosher food does not necessarily hail from countries with large Jewish populations. In the hopes of grabbing a slice of the market, exhibitors came from around the world, including from South Korea, Australia, Italy, Brazil, Mexico and the Netherlands.
From Pakistan, Adnan Pirzada, the general manager of Dewan Sugar Mills, was exhibiting kosher-certified ethanol for companies to use in beverages and mouthwashes. Currently, they export to 30 countries and are seeking U.S. consumers. The certification is new to the 15-year old company, which produces 125,000 litres of ethanol a day.
“We wanted to tell people that there’s nothing not kosher that ever comes in contact with what we make,” he said, noting that “sometimes, non-kosher ingredients can be in foods and people not know it.”
An example of that came from Dakshin Thilina, the director of Nexpo Conversion, makers of kosher dried coconut milk powder and coconut oil in Sri Lanka. Nexpo supplies an Australian ice cream manufacturer and an organic chocolate manufacturer, and hopes to find U.S. distribution.
“There are three big players in Sri Lanka [in the coconut industry] and they all use sodium caseinate, an animal-based product, and that makes it non-kosher,” he said. “So, now, with vegan, organic and other aspects that make these popular, we needed to enter the market in a different way. We cut out the sodium caseinate and went with a pure organic powder. Without that component, it’s essentially lactose-free – the allergies people suffer from due to milk-based products is out and, because it’s non-dairy, kosher Jews can use it anytime, alongside meat.”
In Dubai, kosher catering is a one-woman show, and she was at Kosherfest.
Elli Kriel, a South African expat of seven years who lives in Dubai, began her company recently. “I was producing kosher food for our family and people started reaching out to me,” she said. “Travelers in particular, moving through the city, needed kosher food. I used to invite them to eat in our home, but I realized, as more and more people began reaching out, I was in a good position to offer kosher catering.”
She said Elli’s Kosher Kitchen’s launch was bolstered by the United Arab Emirates’ Year of Tolerance, announced in February, “a government initiative promoting the idea of diversity within the UAE and the tolerance for all religions and races.” It was then, she added, that the Jewish community was formally recognized and, “at that moment, I thought it was perfect to step forward.” There are about 150 people in the Jewish community, with tourists receiving food each day, she said.
Kosherfest attracted about 6,000 attendees this fall, some 800 more than last year. With 360 exhibitors, roughly 300 products on the floor had been introduced within the last 12 months, said organizers.
A recent Quartz article elaborated that it is “fairly astounding that more than 40% of the country’s [United States’] new packaged food and beverage products in 2014 are labeled as being kosher, while it was on only 27% of packaged foods in 2009.”
Explanations for this include the public’s desire for assurance that a product does not include certain allergens, or traces of allergens, such as shellfish. Or an assurance that a product is vegetarian or vegan, as in the example of Oreo cookies, that once contained lard, prior to the producers’ switch to kosher.
Another example of food that contains ingredients that may surprise some consumers is cheese. Most cheeses contain enzymes and rennet (animal-derived), but the Sheese line uses coconut oil, palm oil and other vegan replacements. Hailing from Scotland’s Isle of Bute, the “cheese” is lactose-free, vegan, kosher, cholesterol-free and gluten-free, appealing to various dietary needs.
In light of bug infestations in dozens of supermarket vegetables and the challenge of washing them thoroughly so as not to ingest these non-kosher critters, Boston-based Fresh Box Farms came to Kosherfest with a solution. They’re growing and selling leafy greens that are hydroponically grown in a triple-sealed environment, using no pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. “It’s free of any pests. And we don’t wash our product, and the consumer doesn’t need to either,” said Jacqueline Hynes, senior marketing officer.
An online essay by Star-K, a kosher certification agency in Maryland, noted that some “35 million non-Jewish consumers of kosher products” buy them because of health and food safety concerns, “as a trustworthy means of ensuring that these criteria are being addressed.” Food production companies, it says, are increasing their lines of certified products, due to “more general cultural anxiety about industrialization of the food supply.”
Menachem Lubinsky, chief executive officer of Lubicom, the organizer of the event, said kosher foods today appeal to a “more health-conscious consumer. Now, it’s become almost fashionable to have vegan or gluten-free, so why not kosher? They don’t want any customer to be left out.”
By 2025, the kosher industry will reach some $25 billion US in sales a year, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Not everything exhibited at Kosherfest was a food product. One company sold kosher cast-iron cookware. Isaac Salem, president of New York-based IKO Imports, said their cookware differentiates itself from other such products, as its non-stick “seasoning” is created with a proprietary plant-derived oil base, rather than the typical animal fat, “which obviously can come from non-kosher sources.” He said their cookware holds up against competitors, and appeals to vegans, as well.
Consumers who keep kosher will also be able to enjoy something they’ve never had before. Promised Land Beverage Company’s Exodus Hopped Cider does not contain any leavened products or grains; rather, it has fermented apples and hops, add could double as a kind of beer.
“Now you can have beer at the seder,” said Yoni Schwartz, company president, “something unimaginable in the past.”
Dave Gordon is a Toronto-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in more than 100 publications around the world.
The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), a nonprofit, Washington, D.C.-based education and advocacy organization, announced last month that award-winning Vancouver landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander is the namesake of a recently established prize.
The Cornelia Hahn Oberlander International Landscape Architecture Prize (“Oberlander Prize”), which will be conferred biennially beginning in 2021, is the first and only international landscape architecture prize that includes a $100,000 US award, along with two years of public engagement activities. The naming announcement was made at an event at the Consulate General of Canada in New York City.
The 98-year-old Oberlander has been in practice for more than 70 years. Her notable projects include the New York Times building courtyard (with HMWhite landscape architects and urban designers), the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, the Canadian chancery in Washington, D.C., the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the Canadian embassy in Berlin, Robson Square in Vancouver, the Vancouver Public Library, and many others. Oberlander has worked on public housing in the United States and Canada, pioneered playground design with the Children’s Creative Centre at Montreal’s Expo ’67 (and designed 70 other playgrounds), was an early champion of green roofs and, for decades, has advocated for landscape architecture’s leading role in addressing environmental, ecological and social issues and the impact of climate change.
Oberlander is held in high regard both within and beyond her profession, as is reflected in the early results of a campaign to raise $1 million to help endow the Oberlander Prize, with commitments of $10,000 each from and/or on behalf of 100 women, part of a broader campaign to raise $4.5 million. The 100 Women Campaign launched in July 2019 and its website includes information about each of the more than 70 women who have contributed to date.
“It was the consensus of the prize advisory committee, which helped shaped the prize, and TCLF’s board of directors that Oberlander’s inspiring and trailblazing career in the field of landscape architecture exemplifies the critical values and ideals of the prize, and that she is someone who embodies the prize criteria of creativity, courage and vision,” said Charles A. Birnbaum, TCLF’s president and chief executive officer.
In tandem with the naming of the prize, all of Oberlander’s publicly accessible works are being added to TCLF’s What’s Out There landscape database; on June 20, 2021, the centennial of Oberlander’s birth, TCLF will host a What’s Out There Weekend of free, expert-led tours of Oberlander’s landscapes in the United States, Canada and Germany; and an update to TCLF’s 2008 Pioneers Oral History with Oberlander has been produced. More public engagement events will be announced later. See tclf.org/prize.
Maya Lichtmann (photo from Connect Model United Nations Vancouver)
Maya Lichtmann was selected in May as a Canadian high school intern for StandWithUs, an international organization that educates about Israel and fights antisemitism. She was chosen for the program after participating in a StandWithUs event at King David High School.
Lichtmann, a Grade 12 student at J.N. Burnett Secondary School in Richmond, attended a conference in August at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles with about 100 other high school interns, including about a dozen Canadians. She will join all high school and college interns in January at the same location.
As part of the internship, she recently delivered an educational program to two History 12 classes at her school. She covered the history of the Jewish people, how they came to Europe, the rise of Nazism, the Holocaust, the creation of the state of Israel and the rise of anti-Zionism. While she uses resources offered by StandWithUs, her presentations are developed independently.
“A lot of the presentations that StandWithUs have are catered toward Jewish audiences, because a lot of the kids who are doing the internship go to private Jewish schools,” she said. Because she goes to a public school, and one where a majority of students are of Asian heritage, she developed the presentations for audiences with limited knowledge of the topic. She received entirely positive feedback from a “100% non-Jewish audience,” she said.
Lichtmann plans to make a presentation about LGBTQ+ rights in Israel to her school’s gay-straight alliance, and one about Israel’s role in the international community at her Model United Nations Club, which she led as president last year. She will also be delivering a presentation at a student-run TEDx event.
“I’m very passionate about Israel,” she said. “It’s one of the key factors in fighting international antisemitism because I believe that unity and acceptance of Jewish people has been a struggle for the past 1,900 years, as the Jewish people were throughout the Diaspora, and I hope to continue to help Jewish people feel more accepted within society.”
She added: “My grandfather was in a concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen. We were forced to relocate after the Holocaust, so my family moved to Israel and my father was born in Israel and then immigrated to Canada. But my ties and connection to Israel are obviously still very strong.”
Lichtmann also is on her school’s student council, president of the school’s Women in Leadership Club, youth representative on the board of directors at the Thompson Community Centre in Richmond, and premier-elect of the Richmond-Delta Youth Parliament. She coaches cheerleading and tutors international students in English.
Lichtmann is a daughter of Mandy and Eyal Lichtmann and big sister to Noa and Liel.
Then-mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat and Nomi Levin Yeshua at the Jerusalem Foundation of Canada gala in Toronto in 2014. (photo from Nomi Levin Yeshua)
This article is the first in an occasional series about people with British Columbian roots having positive impacts in Israel and elsewhere.
When Nomi Levin Yeshua went to Israel in 1990, she wasn’t committed to staying there. Almost three decades later, the Vancouver-born and -raised woman can look back on a career that has impacted the face of Jerusalem and Israel.
Thanks to a chance meeting over Shabbat lunch with her grandmother’s former neighbour’s sister – “You know Israel,” she said, laughing – Yeshua had barely arrived in Israel when she got a job as assistant to the assistant to Teddy Kollek, Jerusalem’s mayor – but the job was more than that.
Shula Eisner, Yeshua’s new boss, had been working for Kollek since 1965, just before he began his 28-year run as mayor. Kollek was chairman of the Israel Museum and, before that, had served 11 years as director general of the prime minister’s office under David Ben-Gurion. In that role, Kollek effectively created almost all of the government agencies in the new state.
“One of the things he believed was that there had to be a national museum,” Yeshua told the Independent recently while in Vancouver for a milestone birthday of her mother, Shanie Levin. “He went around raising money to start the Israel Museum. He had an office there and [Eisner] was originally hired there to work with him with all the foreign donors. Then he was elected mayor and he kept to the Israel Museum office.”
In 1966, Kollek founded the Jerusalem Foundation, where Yeshua now works.
“That was his way of creating a forum for supporters of Jerusalem around the world, to be part of creating a new vision for Jerusalem. Then, a year after that, with the Six Day War and the reunification of the city, suddenly everything was just multiplied,” she said.
Yeshua acknowledged that Kollek’s multiple roles as mayor, head of the national museum and leader of a major foundation would probably not be sustainable today, but that was a different time.
“For him, it was all fluid,” she said.
To accommodate his different hats in the era before email or even fax machines, there was a driver who shuffled between offices, taking papers back and forth.
When Eisner moved over to another foundation, she handed her baton to Yeshua, who worked with Kollek through his last years as mayor and continued until a few months before he passed away, in 2007. She continues to run all donor relations for the Jerusalem Foundation and she personally handles Canadian fundraising for the organization.
The Jerusalem Foundation was started by Kollek because he saw that Jerusalem was a very poor city.
“A lot of religious institutions that don’t pay taxes at all are in Jerusalem, so he knew that it was always going to be a challenge for the city to have a balanced budget, to expand the city, to develop the city, to provide for the citizens of the city, so he knew that he was going to need to raise money,” she said.
Kollek pioneered a fundraising model that is now almost universal across Israeli and Jewish philanthropy.
“He connected every donor to a specific project and they knew that their money went to that project and they could come – and now their grandchildren come – and see those projects. To this day, they can still track the money. The Jerusalem Foundation was really at the forefront of that movement of changing the way people were giving to Israel. Now, it’s taken for granted, but it wasn’t back in the late ’60s and early ’70s at all. That was Teddy,” she said. “He wanted people to feel personally connected to the city, to the project, to the place.”
The foundation emphasizes “shared living” and is now focused on a vision for 2030.
“This is a city that is completely about how to exist together in this space that we share. It’s not just Arabs and Jews. It’s also secular and religious, it’s poor and rich, it’s all kinds of divisions that exist in the city,” she said. “But how do we share and how do we understand each other better?”
One major project is Hand-in-Hand School for Bilingual Education.
“Bilingual education is something that Canadians completely understand but Israelis less so. This is a school that teaches in Arabic and in Hebrew, in mixed classrooms. The rest of the Israeli education system is – we don’t like to use this word but it’s the truth – segregated,” she said. “There are Jewish schools, there are Arab schools and then, even within the Jewish schools, there are religious and nonreligious. This school brings together all of the different population groups and at all times there is an Arabic-speaking and a Hebrew-speaking teacher in the classroom.” There are now six such schools around the country.
Another area of the foundation’s work is helping the most vulnerable populations in the city, through projects such as Springboard, which develops programs primarily through the education system to push gifted kids into opportunities their financial situation might not otherwise permit.
The Jerusalem Foundation is also the city’s second-largest funder to the arts, after the municipality.
“We really believe that a modern and thriving city should have a good cultural scene. Culture is not just for one population group. All members of the community should be cultural consumers. But you have to create culture that is appropriate for those people,” she said. “For example, there is a dance troupe for ultra-Orthodox women. They only perform for women, of course, because otherwise that wouldn’t work for them. But they’re really doing amazing stuff and giving these ultra-Orthodox women who want to dance an opportunity to have a really high-level, professional dance troupe within the system that works for them.”
The foundation is also building a new Hassadna Conservatory of Music.
“They help kids ages six all the way through high school with classical music education and they also provide a special program for children of Ethiopian descent who don’t necessarily have the financial means to get musical training and they have a special program for special needs kids that’s integrated,” she said.
Yeshua credits her Vancouver upbringing as foundational to her worldview and accomplishments. She grew up in the Habonim Dror Zionist youth movement and was a camper, counselor and camp director at Camp Miriam. At home, her Jewishness was nurtured in a pluralistic way.
“In terms of how my mother brought us up, Jewish identity wasn’t limited to our religious identity,” she recalled. “National identity was something that was acceptable, cultural identity was very much encouraged. I think growing up in the very open community of Vancouver – to me it always seems that way, at least – it allowed me to be Jewish in a way that I felt good with and it wasn’t only one way to be Jewish.”
Yeshua acknowledged that “many people feel somewhat alienated from Israel today.”
“I want people to understand that there is a way to engage with Israel, to support Israel, and not contradict your own value system or what you think is acceptable,” she said. “What we do with the Jerusalem Foundation is something that people can respond to, relate to, understand – to protect Jerusalem as a city that is for everyone.”
This colour image was obtained by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft early Dec. 12, 1990, when the spacecraft was about 1.6 million miles from the earth. (photo from NASA/JPL)
It’s been 50 years since Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon, on July 20, 1969. But there was another “first” six months earlier – in January 1969, the first Jew journeyed into space, Soviet cosmonaut Boris Volynov.
Since then, there have been 14 Jewish space-bound astronauts, including arguably the most famous, Israeli Ilan Ramon, who died in the explosion of the Columbia Space Shuttle, with six colleagues, in February 2003.
Like many before him, and many since, Ramon’s mission was infused with his Jewish heritage. For the voyage, he packed a pocket-sized Torah smuggled in (and out) of Bergen-Belsen, the Nazi death camp, and brought “Moon Landscape,” drawn by Petr Ginz, a 14-year-old inmate of Auschwitz. He also requested kosher food on the shuttle and NASA contacted Illinois-based My Own Meals, which makes kosher “thermo-stabilized” sealed pouches for campers. Reports say that Ramon also asked Rabbi Zvi Konikov of Satellite Beach, Fla., about keeping Shabbat in space – depending on the shuttle’s position, sunrise can happen 16 times a day.
To mark the 50-year milestone of the moon landing, the Jewish Independent interviewed three Jewish astronauts: Jeffrey Hoffman (the first Jewish male astronaut in space), David Wolf and Mark Polansky.
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Hoffman was sent on five missions, the first in 1985; the last in 1996. In 1993, he repaired the Hubble Space Telescope. He logged more than 1,000 hours (the first to do so) and 21.5 million miles in space.
JI: Did you always want to be an astronaut?
JH: Well, if you asked in 1962 … any red-blooded young American boy, or probably Russian boys, for that matter, what they wanted to be when they grew up, 90% would say astronauts. I recognized that all of the early astronauts were military test pilots, and it was not a career I was interested in. I never considered it a realistic career prospect, but it was something I was always fascinated by.
In the late ’70s, NASA was developing what was then the brand new Space Shuttle, which had a crew of up to seven and they only needed two pilots. So, when they put out the first call for shuttle astronauts, all of sudden there were two types of astronauts now they were looking for. They were looking for the pilots, who were the traditional test pilot astronauts just like it had always been in the program, but they were also looking for scientists, engineers, medical doctors…. I all put in an application, and I was lucky enough to get selected.
JI: What was a highlight in space?
JH: The first highlight was riding a rocket into space, which fulfilled a childhood dream. But, the most memorable was, for every shuttle flight, two crew members were trained to use the space suits, just in case something happened. We weren’t planning on doing one on our flight, but one of our satellites malfunctioned and they sent me and my partner out to do what was, for NASA, the very first ever unplanned spacewalk. That was just an extraordinary experience.
JI: How did you get the idea to spin a dreidel in space?
JH: Before my first flight, my rabbi (Shaul Osadchey) asked me if I was interested in taking Jewish artifacts up. There were several dreidels I took up, one from the synagogue. I also took a mezuzah (donated to the Jewish Museum in New York), a Torah, both tallits from my two sons from their bar mitzvah, and a menorah, which is still at the front door of the science museum in Jerusalem. While I was in Jerusalem, I met a couple of Jewish artists who had read about me, a Jewish astronaut who took Jewish things into space. I had planned on being in space during Chanukah and one thing led to another and they presented me with a dreidel and a traveling menorah. It is a beautiful dreidel. It simply would not stop spinning!
JI: What did you do with the other Jewish stuff?
JH: There are only bunks for half the crew, with little places where you would sleep at night, and so we would share those with someone on the other crew. Well, I had a mezuzah with me. Of course, you can’t nail a mezuzah to the door when you are in a spacecraft; you have to use Velcro. So, I put it on the inside of my little sleep compartment and I would remove it every morning, because I figured this was for me and I didn’t want to impose on someone else who might not know what it is about. Fourth day of the mission, the guy who had been using my bunk at night said, “Hey, Jeff, that’s a nice idea putting the mezuzah in there!” I slapped my forehead…. It was Scott Horowitz, another Jewish astronaut. So, after that, we just left the mezuzah Velcroed to the wall for the both of us.
JI: Did you know Ilan Ramon?
JH: I knew Ilan, and had numerous contacts with his wife, Rona, since Ilan’s death. Although he was a payload specialist astronaut – a non-professional astronaut, on a crew for a special reason, for only one flight – he was totally accepted into the astronaut office culture. A large part of this is because his heroism as an Israeli Air Force pilot impressed the pilot astronauts, and another large part was because he was a genuinely likable person.
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Wolf had four missions from 1993 to 2009, with more than 4,000 hours in space, 168 days in orbit on the space station Mir and seven spacewalks. He was the chief engineer for the orbital medical facility and chief scientist for the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory bioreactor (tissue-engineering) program. He conducted a number of experiments and studies, including advanced microgravity tissue-engineering techniques.
JI: How did you become an astronaut?
DW: I’d been flying in the F4 Phantom in the international guard for many years and had that air force background; I had this mix of medicine, engineering and flying. I wound up in a very unique situation as an astronaut because I had been at NASA for nine years already, building instruments for the shuttle and the space station. Interestingly enough, I went to NASA as a bioengineer and a flight surgeon initially. I was the chief engineer for what became the health medical facility on the space station.
JI: What was terrifying about being in space?
DW: I was trapped outside the airlock on a spacewalk in a Russian space suit in a Russian spacecraft. The airlock was never recovered. It wouldn’t repressurize, so we had to ditch into another module. [It] took like 14 hours; we were [brought in] at the last second. I have had three total power failures of a spacecraft.
JI: Now tell me about the Jewish aspects.
DW: We Jewish astronauts do consider ourselves as representing the Jewish community. We take it seriously. I carried a mezuzah and it’s on my door now. I also carried a yad, a Torah pointer, and gave it to my synagogue in Indianapolis. I had a small menorah up there. I have the world-record dreidel spin.
JI: You might want to ask Hoffman about that.
DW: Hoffman and I are having a running battle, a running argument, on who has the longest dreidel spin. But I know mine went for like an hour and a half until it got sucked into an air intake. It was just floating there spinning.
JI: Did you know Ilan Ramon?
DW: We were good friends, and his office was right down the hall, a few doors down. He was one of the very finest that we ever saw come through. And Israel should be totally proud of providing that kind of quality to the astronaut office.
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Polansky was sent on three missions – in 2001, 2006 and 2009 – all of which contributed to assembly of the ISS. He has logged nearly a thousand hours in space, and served as director of operations at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Star City, Russia. His initial flight was notable for several firsts: the first shuttle to dock with the ISS, the first time that a total of 13 crew members lived and worked onboard the ISS at the same time, and the first time that an astronaut/cosmonaut from every ISS partner agency was in orbit together.
JI: When did you decide to become an astronaut?
MP: I was 13 when we landed on the moon and I got inspired and thought about becoming an astronaut. I’m old enough to remember that everything came to a screeching halt. The teacher would roll in a rickety old black-and-white TV on a stand and plug it in, and pull out rabbit ears….
I was a freshman in college in ’74 and I was living in a dormitory at Purdue University with, of all people, David Wolf, and Gene Cernan came to campus to give a talk. Imagine yourself as a freshman in college being about five feet away from a man who walked on the moon – I still have goosebumps about that. And that led me down a road which went to the air force and beyond to eventually get where I got.
JI: What was a highlight of being in space?
MP: You go over places, especially when you orbit around the Middle East, and you know what goes on, on the ground, and the horrible things humans can do to each other, and the suffering. You see none of that from there. You get this feeling of, it’s almost both hope and sadness. It gives you hope that we as a species can get past this.
JI: Given past disasters, were you afraid?
MP: Flying high-performance aircraft, being a fighter pilot, a test pilot, unfortunately, there are times when there are going to be aviation mishaps, and it’s usually very unforgiving. You realize that, as much as you would like to make things so safe, there is no such thing as absolute safety, where you never get hurt. You don’t want to get hurt in an aviation accident? Well, don’t fly airplanes. I always knew there was a lot of risk to it.
I got to meet a lot of the people who were working on the hardware. This was a calling for them. They could have made a lot more money working in another industry, but they were there because they just lived and breathed working on Space Shuttles, doing everything they could to make sure those Space Shuttles were as safe as they possibly could be.
JI: Did you know Ilan Ramon?
MP: I knew Ilan Ramon and, when he came over, he was flying with a couple of classmates of mine. After that tragedy, I spoke on behalf of the agency at a reception they had in Los Angeles, about Ilan. He was just a normal, great guy, and a man of peace.
Other Jewish astronauts:
Jerome Apt: Four missions, 1991 to 1996. Author of Orbit: NASA Astronauts Photograph the Earth (National Geographic Society). Received the NASA Distinguished Service Medal in 1997. In 2012, the International Astronomical Union approved the name “Jeromeapt” for the main-belt asteroid 116903.
Martin Fettman: 1993 mission. Has published more than 100 articles in refereed scientific journals.
Scott J. Horowitz: three missions, 1996-2001. Four Space Shuttle flights. A retired U.S. air force colonel.
Garrett Reisman: 2008 and 2010 missions. Joined SpaceX in 2011 as a senior engineer working on astronaut safety.
Gregory Chamitoff: 2008 and 2011 missions. The Lawrence Hargrave Professor of Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Sydney, Australia; professor of engineering practice in aerospace engineering at Texas A&M University.
Ellen Louise Shulman Baker: three missions, 1989-1995, the last of which was the first Space Shuttle mission to dock with the Russian space station Mir, and involved an exchange of crews. Logged almost 700 hours in space.
Marsha Ivins: five missions, 1990-2001. Spent 55 days in orbit, on missions devoted to such diverse tasks as deploying satellites, conducting scientific research, and docking with Mir and the ISS.
John M. Grunsfeld: five missions, 1995-2002. In January 2012, returned to NASA and served as associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
Judith Resnik: first Jewish American and the first Jewish woman in space. Died on Challenger, January 1986.
Dave Gordonis a Toronto-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in more than 100 publications around the world.
On display now at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City, the exhibit Auschwitz: Not Long Ago. Not Far Away is the most comprehensive Holocaust exhibition ever mounted in North America about Auschwitz. Dedicated to the victims of the death camp, the goal of this exhibit is to make sure no one ever forgets.
A study conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany reported that 41% of Americans and 66% of millennials say they don’t know about the Auschwitz death camp, where more than a million Jews and others, including Poles, Sinti and Roma, Soviet prisoners of war, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others, were executed. And 22% of millennials say they haven’t even heard of the Holocaust.
“Seventy-three years ago, after the world saw the haunting pictures from Auschwitz, no one in their right mind wanted to be associated with the Nazis,” Ron Lauder, founder and chair of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation Committee and president of World Jewish Congress, said. “This exhibit reminds them, in the starkest ways, where antisemitism can ultimately lead and the world should never go there again. The title of this exhibit is so appropriate because this was not so long ago, and not so far away.”
The exhibition consists of 20 galleries spanning three floors, and features more than 700 original objects and 400 photographs. They are on loan from more than 20 institutions and private collections around the world, as well as the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland.
An audio guide given to each visitor upon entry details the items on display. Visitors will see hundreds of personal possessions, such as suitcases, eyeglasses, photos, shoes, socks and clothes that belonged to survivors and those murdered at the concentration camp. In one glass case, a child’s shoe is on display with a sock neatly tucked inside. We are left to wonder, who put that sock in the shoe and were they expecting the child to shower and then retrieve it?
Auschwitz was located 31 miles west of Krakow in the small southern Polish town Oswiecim, which dates back to the Middle Ages. Jews were a part of its society for centuries. Auschwitz-Birkenau was conceived and initially constructed to house 100,000 Soviet prisoners of war and slave labour, before it became a factory of death. The architect who designed the camp was Fritz Ertl, a native of Austria. Ultimately, some 1.1 million Jews and thousands of others were killed there. Many who arrived at Auschwitz were sent directly from the overcrowded, sealed, windowless boxcars to the gas chambers and crematoriums.
There are videos throughout the exhibit, including one of Hitler and a large adoring crowd. There’s a concrete post that was a part of the fence at the Auschwitz camp, and a part of the original barrack for prisoners at the killing centre.
A German-made Model-2 boxcar, like those used to transport people to Auschwitz, sits outside the museum. In a video, survivors talk of the horrible conditions and stench inside those boxcars.
Viewers can see the operating table, test tubes and instruments used in medical experiments. There’s a gas mask used by the SS and a model of a gas chamber door used in crematoria 2, 3, 4 and 5 – and testimonies from survivors of the camp. To show the striking contrast between the victims and the perpetrators, there are photos of Rudolf Hess at his nearby residence with his family enjoying the outdoors.
Nazi ideology and the roots of antisemitism are traced from the beginning, to understand what happened before the gas chambers were created. Discrimination and bigotry against Jews existed long before Hitler came into power, of course. In one room, there’s an anti-Jewish proclamation issued in 1551 by Ferdinand I that was given to Hermann Göring for his birthday by German security chief Reinhard Heydrich. The proclamation required Jews to identify themselves with a yellow ring on their clothes. Heydrich noted that, 400 years later, the Nazis were completing Ferdinand’s work.
In a video seen near the end of the exhibition, Holocaust survivors urge people to refrain from hate and to work for peace.
This exhibition was in Madrid before coming to New York. This important and moving must-see exhibition is both a reminder and a warning.
Alice Burdick Schweiger is a New York City-based freelance writer who has written for many national magazines, including Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, Woman’s Day and The Grand Magazine. She specializes in writing about Broadway, entertainment, travel and health, and covers Broadway for the Jewish News. She is co-author of the 2004 book Secrets of the Sexually Satisfied Woman, with Jennifer Berman and Laura Berman.
Located in the Museum of Jewish Heritage, at 36 Battery Place, entry to the exhibit Auschwitz: Not Long Ago is by timed tickets available at mjhnyc.org. An audio guide is included with admission, and tickets range from $10 to $25. Hours are Sunday to Thursday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. (last entry at 7 p.m.), and Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (last entry at 3 p.m.). The exhibit will be in New York until January 2020.
Ety Siton, left, director of the Kfar Saba branch of ERAN, also oversees the Toronto volunteers. She is pictured with Sigal Almog, co-founder of Toronto’s ERAN project. (photo from ERAN)
Finding enough volunteers in Israel for the night shift of the country’s emotional crisis hotline, ERAN, proved difficult. So, its chief executive director, David Koren, came up with the idea of looking for Israeli volunteers living in North America to help cover this time period.
ERAN is a confidential service, offered over the phone or the internet, which provides free, anonymous emotional support to people in Israel of all ages, in Hebrew, Russian, Arabic and English.
Sigal Almog and Galya Sarner, both former Israelis living in Toronto, were at a conference in Washington, D.C., in 2017 when they heard of Koren’s mission. They sent out a call for volunteers through their network, and further recruited two social workers, Anat Gonen and Sabina Mezhibovsky, to co-found and open a chapter of ERAN in Toronto last year.
“Right now, in Toronto, we have 16 volunteers,” Gonen told the Independent, adding, “We have around 85 volunteers in the four North American branches. I think they are answering, each month, around 800 calls. So, that is 800 calls that, before we had those volunteers in North America, were unanswered, because nobody was there at night.”
“Just think about the message behind it,” said Sarner. “It’s unbelievable, probably saving the lives of so many in need who couldn’t get help, because not enough volunteers were there to give them the minimum support they were asking for.”
All four Toronto co-founders knew of the ERAN helpline prior to becoming involved with it in Canada, though none had used it themselves.
“ERAN is part of daily life in Israel,” said Sarner. “It’s a very distinguished project and, when we heard from Koren that he was looking to expand his global networking and to work with the North American community, we didn’t think twice. We knew we’d do whatever it took to launch the branch of ERAN in Toronto.”
Almog, who was also at the 2017 conference, recognized that this was a great opportunity to connect with and help people in Israel from Toronto. Nearly 80 former Israelis came to the initial information session in the city and, after screening them all, the branch accepted around 20 volunteers, who went on to get special training from ERAN and then started taking calls from Israel.
Volunteers do not need to have any particular degree, but they do need to possess specific skills.
“You need to be able to have some kind of empathy and self-awareness to know how to listen, [and to] understand and have a conversation in Hebrew, Russian, Arabic or English,” said Gonen. “One of the things we also found to be a struggle is that some of the people, especially those who’ve been here many, many years, can’t write in Hebrew. This is also a requirement, as they need to write a report in Hebrew. But, mostly what we need are people who are able to listen, to try not to give advice, and to be able to commit to the process,” to take a number of shifts per month.
“Whenever a volunteer answers the phone, they are told to say, ‘Eran, Shalom’ … keeping it very neutral, as, for some people on the line, it’s not a great evening…. It actually can be a pretty bad one,” said Sarner.
When a person in an emotional crisis dials 1201 from anywhere in Israel, they will be connected to a trained volunteer, who will try to direct them to those who can best help them; for example, a soldier with another soldier, or a Holocaust survivor with someone knowledgeable about the issues survivors face.
North American volunteers are taking shifts between 5 and 9 p.m., and 9 p.m. and 1 a.m., EST. Each volunteer signs into the ERAN system from their own computer and takes calls in their home.
“They have to be at home, because they have to be in a quiet room, a closed room, so nobody can hear the conversation they’re having and nobody interferes with what they say,” said Gonen.
Though the volunteers are in Toronto, they are trained to keep that fact out of the conversation. This way, explained Gonen, the caller is more likely to feel comfortable with them, thinking they are in Israel and able to identify with their struggle.
Running the Toronto chapter has been challenging, as the branch does not receive financial support from ERAN Israel or from the Toronto Jewish community. But, they have received some support from private donors and the Schwartz/Reisman Centre (in Vaughan, Ont.) provides space for ERAN volunteer training.
“We don’t have any kind of money that comes from ERAN Israel and everything we do here we pay for from our own pockets,” said Gonen. “The training … Sabina and I are volunteering to do every month. And, when we meet, all four of us will bring snacks for the meeting or things like that, because we want to make sure people feel appreciated for doing this. So, we’re looking for donations to help us run the branch.”
“We’re looking to expand support from our sponsors, because we did receive very touching sponsorships, mainly in the beginning, during the time of the initial training,” said Sarner. “But, in terms of the monthly meeting, it takes place at Schwartz/Reisman JCC. We’re very lucky to have the support of the JCC, but we definitely need to expand and find more sponsors and donors.”
The feeling shared by the co-founders and volunteers is that of gratitude to be able to have a direct impact on the lives of Israelis in Israel.
“We give a lot to ERAN,” said Almog. “We work many volunteer hours, but I feel like each one of the volunteers gets so much out of it. It’s brought a lot of meaning to our lives here, as Israelis who live outside of Israel.
“The volunteers just told us last week, someone who went to Florida and didn’t participate in the last training, that she really missed ERAN. It has become very meaningful in the lives of each one of us.”
“Anything you do in life,” Sarner added, “you have to do with love – with love and respect – and the respect we have among the four of us, it means so much to me. In Toronto, from the volunteers to the sponsors and the support of the community at large, it makes it even more meaningful to me. It has touched my heart and soul to be part of such an important initiative.”